Talk about an uncomfortable situation.
Andrew Hart, ’12, spent most of his summer in New Orleans asking people to do just that – explain what it was like to have their homes washed away by Hurricane Katrina.
On Monday, Hart returned to Monteagle Ridge to discuss his experience as an intern with the St. Bernard’s Project, an award-winning organization that seeks to help Louisianans recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. That initiative enlists approximately 11,000 annual volunteers to rebuild houses, ensure that survivors are mentally stable and fundraise.
The St. Bernard’s Project is particularly adept at placing volunteers in positions that complement their areas of expertise, in essence serving as experiential learning opportunities. For example, Hart, who studied communications and Spanish at NU, was charged with interviewing victims and writing their biographies as a means to encourage donations.
“What I was doing was putting a face and story with a name. People are usually more likely to give if you tug at their heartstrings,” Hart said during his 30-minute presentation in the Gallagher Center. “It’s seven years ago now and people just don’t think about it anymore. I’m trying to use my abilities to get the word out.”
Hart was Niagara’s first participant in the program, which was launched in 2006 by Liz McCartney and Zack Rosenburg, a teacher and lawyer, respectively, from Washington, D.C. According to its website, the St. Bernard’s Project has rebuilt more than 445 homes in the Greater New Orleans area since 2006.
“It’s inspiring to see all these thousands of volunteers, with so many coming back year after year,” said Hart, who plans to return to New Orleans for a 10-month stay as a volunteer coordinator with AmeriCorps.
Now, seven years since the largest residential disaster history in U.S. history, up to 8,000 families are estimated to still be without homes. Most of the displaced are living in shelters, FEMA trailers or staying with relatives.
Hart hopes that more Niagara students will step up to join the cause this summer. He says that it could act as a service learning alternative to the traditional spring break, adding that it ties in perfectly with the university’s Vincentian heritage. There is no cost for students to participate.
“The experience opened my eyes to what’s out there and what needs to be done,” he said. “These people don’t deserve this. They deserve better.”
Additional information on the St. Bernard’s Project is available online at www.stbernardproject.org. To volunteer through Niagara University, please contact Dr. Kevin Blair at 716.286.8516 or ude.aragainnull@dkrialB.